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Brackets. Created by Ashley Massie April 2012. Brackets vs. Parentheses. Like parentheses, brackets are enclosures. Brackets have fewer and more specialized uses than parentheses. Brackets and parentheses are usually not interchangeable. Use Brackets.

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Created by Ashley Massie

April 2012

brackets vs parentheses
Brackets vs. Parentheses
  • Like parentheses, brackets are enclosures.
  • Brackets have fewer and more specialized uses than parentheses.
  • Brackets and parentheses are usually not interchangeable.
use brackets
Use Brackets

1. As Parentheses Within Parentheses

  • Use brackets to avoid the confusion caused by one set of parentheses falling within another.
  • Turn the inner pair of parentheses into brackets.


  • Johnny went to the store with his list of items (bread, milk [fat free], peanut butter, and jelly) but came home with only the bread.
use brackets1
Use Brackets

2. To Indicate Capitalization Changes in Quotes

  • In quoted material, use square brackets to indicate that a letter has been changed from uppercase to lowercase, or vice versa.
  • To avoid awkwardness, consider rewording the sentence so that no change in capitalization is needed.


This unusual animal was once believed to be a myth because “[s]kepticsinsisted that the duck-billed platypus was simply a duck bill sewn onto a beaver’s body” (35). (“Skeptics” changed to “skeptics”)

use brackets2
Use Brackets

3. To Indicate Other Changes to Quotations

  • Use brackets to show any changes made to quotations in order to retain grammatical correctness.
  • Use brackets in quotes to add a word, prefix, or suffix in order to fit the quote into your sentence.
  • Use brackets to change the tense of a verb in a quote so that it will fit into your sentence.


  • I tried to make a dish mild enough for everyone, but my idea of "add[ing] Cayenne pepper to taste" was not the same as my friend's idea. (“add” changed to “adding”)
  • In Thomas Jefferson's time, there was definitely a notion that "A little rebellion now and then [was] a good thing.“ (“is” changed to “was”)
use brackets3
Use Brackets

4. To Add Additional Information to Quotations

  • Use brackets to insert necessary information, comments, corrections, opinions, clarifications, or explanations of your own into direct quotations.
  • Brackets are used within quotations to tell readers that the words enclosed are yours and not those of your source.
  • Don’t overdo it! Readers will resent the explanation of obvious details.
  • Do not use brackets when inserting additional information into your own writing. Use parentheses or dashes.


  • “He [George Lucas] reminded me a little of Walt Disney’s version of a mad scientist.”
  • “Dues are being raised $1.00 per week [to $5.00],” the treasurer announced.
  • “The miles of excellent trails are perfect for [cross-country] skiing.”
use brackets4
Use Brackets

5. To Acknowledge Errors in Quotations

  • Quotations must be copied accurately, word by word, from your source—errors and all. To show that you have copied a passage faithfully, place the word sic (the Latin word for “thus” or “so”) in brackets one space after any mistake.
  • APA and Turabian handbooks state that sic must be italicized within the brackets, while the MLA handbook does not specify.
  • If sic can be placed outside the quotation itself, it appears between parentheses, not brackets.
    • Molly’s paper was titled “King Leer” (sic).


  • Mr. Vincent’s letter went on: “I would have preferred a younger bride, but I decided to marry the old window [sic] anyway.”
  • The sign over the cash register read, “We don’t except [sic] personal checks for payment.”
information gathered from
Information gathered from…
  • The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers, 5th Edition
  • Hodges’ Harbrace Handbook, Thirteenth Edition
  • Hodges’ Harbrace Handbook, Sixteenth Edition
  • Writing: A College Handbook, 4th Edition
  • The Holt Handbook, Third Edition
  • MLA Handbook, 7th Edition
  • APA Handbook, 6th Edition